Climate change and flying

The question of climate change and flying has arisen for me again, based on some questions asked by other people.

While it has been extensively discussed on this site, the relevant posts are scattered and not easy for someone new to find. To remedy that – and to create a central thread for any future discussion – I am listing them here in chronological order:

My last air travel experience was when I visited Vancouver from 22 December 2009 to 7 January 2010. Since then, the choice not to fly because of its climate change impact has affected every aspect of my life, from the aspiration to see other places, to professional development at work and in school, to relations with family and friends, to loss of relationships with friends and instuctors at Oxford and UBC, to limiting opportunities to participate in activist actions and training.

I think it’s important to draw attention to the highly destructive behaviours which people have normalized and come to perceive as inevitable. In the long run, if humanity is to bring climate change under control, we are all probably going to travel a lot less, a lot more slowly, and for much more important reasons.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

5 thoughts on “Climate change and flying”

  1. Emissions of CO2 from all transport sectors currently account for about 22% of all global emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel use (IPCC, 1996a). In 1990, aviation was responsible for about 12% of CO2 emissions from the transport sector (see Figure 8-2) (Faiz et al., 1996; IPCC, 1996b; OECD, 1997a,b). Regional variations also occur, as shown in Figure 8-3 for North America. Consequently, aviation is currently responsible for about 2% of total global emissions of CO2 from the use of fossil fuels (Sprinkle and Macleod, 1993; WMO, 1995; Gardner et al., 1996).

  2. A round-trip flight between New York and Los Angeles on a typical commercial jet yields an estimated 715 kilos of CO2 per economy class passenger, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. But due to the height at which planes fly, combined with the mixture of gases and particles they emit, conventional air travel has an impact on the global climate that’s approximately 2.7 times worse than its carbon emissions alone, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As a result, that roundtrip flight’s “climatic forcing” is really 1,917 kilos, or almost two tons, of emissions—more than nine times the annual emissions of an average denizen of Haiti (as per U.S. Department of Energy figures).

    Only 2-3 percent of the world’s population flies internationally on an annual basis, but the climate impacts of air travel are felt by a much larger—and poorer—population. It is difficult to illustrate the meaning of such numbers in terms of who among the planet’s citizens pays the costs.

  3. For the love of Earth, stop traveling

    Staying home, in fact, is the essence of making a big difference in a big hurry. That’s because nothing that we do pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere faster than air travel. Cancel a couple long flights, and you can halve your carbon footprint. Schedule a couple, and you can double or triple it.

    Atmosfair is a German public interest group that recommends limiting your air travel to about 3,100 miles per year — if you live in Los Angeles, that’s one round-trip flight to Mexico City.

    Minute by minute, mile by mile, nothing that we do causes greater or more easily avoidable harm to the environment than flying, which more often than not is optional or merely recreational.

    Take a deep, slow breath, and throw away that bucket list for good. You are needed at home, my friend, urgently needed. For the love of the Earth and of those who will inherit it when you are gone, stay right where you are.

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